ANN ARBOR—Sure, football season just got underway but basketball season is right around the corner and Michigan coach John Beilein is as energized and refreshed as ever to get back onto the court with his young, experienced Wolverines.
“I said to someone this is the 38th year of doing what I dreamed of doing my whole life -- teach and coach,” Beilein said Wednesday. “38th straight, if I have my math right.”
After spending the better part of June and July in Russia as an assistant coach for Team USA in the World University Games, then spending day after day flying around the country for the final leg of the July evaluation period watching recruits, Beilein hasn’t spent an abundance of time working with the Wolverines during the fall period -- yet.
“We see the progress periodically more often if that makes sense,” he said. “But yeah, I like the progress and what we’re seeing, the normal things -- the body changes that first two years is dramatic, I don’t care who you are.
“We’ve only done one session,” Beilein added. “We did guards yesterday and Caris (LeVert) and Nik (Stauskas) and Spike (Albrecht), you can see what a year of weight training has done. And I love, Derrick Walton was with that group as well, and he was exceptional as well.
“His attention to detail and his IQ was good, but, we’re talking (about) one hour.”
One of the biggest question marks heading into the season will center around whether or not Walton can step right in to replace a portion of the production former Wolverine and 2012-13 National College Player of the Year Trey Burke brought to the table in his two seasons as the starting point guard in Ann Arbor.
Though Albrecht will be key in bringing Walton along, as well as adding depth and experience to the position, Beilein already see’s encouraging signs of growth in Walton’s game.
“That’s tough to take because everyone comes from different environments,” Beilein said. “I think it’s more person. There’s young men that pick things up more quickly and I know Derrick is like that and indications are that he is.
“Usually with freshmen it is understanding the defensive end of it, the physical play, the amount of work he has to do between classes, weight room, film study, just putting that all together, everybody does it differently,” Beilein added. “There’s always challenges. Just like a quarterback, for him, not just like a quarterback, but similar to a quarterback situation.”
McGary and Robinson III developing
For McGary, the progress starts with his improved physique and better conditioning than he had for most of last year.
“His body, he really dedicated himself over the summer and spent the entire summer here,” Beilein said. “Both summer sessions. You will all see quite a difference in his body.
“Mitch is a very bright young man and he’s looking at the game differently, every day as to how he can best improve his talent,” Beilein added. “And so he really will enjoy the little things that other people may not enjoy and then at the same time, there’s going to be times where he’s going to come down and make plays that everybody in the place will notice.
“But I like that about him. He’s not, he’s learning this difference between the great play and a whole bunch of good plays and as he continues to learn that, I mean, I love his attitude towards being a more complete player.”
For Robinson III, who will be depended on to score more this winter; added to his perimeter skills will be key.
“I think the sweet spot that he’s learning that I talk about all the time is running a play and being a player,” Beilein said. “He’s just got to continue to look for these bubbles we call them, these little areas that he can just do what he does. But can’t force that. He can’t just say ok I haven’t shot in a while I’m going to just take this shot. He’s got to look for those and he’ll learn little by little. That’s the part of his game that he’s really developing.
“Tim (Hardaway Jr.), as a freshman, had similar times where he might settle for a jump shot when he could’ve driven. Glenn may settle, just move onto the next play without driving. It’s the same type of thing. You’re either going to pass it again or shoot it or do something. Those are the things he’s very willing to learn.”
Tough non-conference schedule
Michigan’s non-conference schedule reads: a trip to Iowa State, a trip to Puerto Rico for a potential rematch with VCU, or Florida State, a visit to Duke, playing Stanford in New York City and hosting Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats.
“The Iowa State game was a game that was supposed to be back there last year and they couldn’t do that so we went with it,” Beilein said. “What it felt like was ok we don’t have to go to Iowa State, now you have to do it. There’s going to be some challenges this year, going on the road that we didn’t have last year, early.
“They know they’re going to play some high level teams and they know not to take teams for granted.”
Walking into tough road environments, Beilein believes the experience gained in the NCAA tournament puts this group of Wolverines ahead of the curve -- at least a little bit.
“It continues to amaze me that you’re looking at, we have Jon (Horford) and Jordan (Morgan) and then you have the sophomores,” he said. “It just continues this way and it’s difficult but they are, I look at them, the one thing that differentiates these sophomores is that they’re prep school guys.
“Spike has already turned 21 years old. He’s the only 21-year-old alter boy still out there. Mitch is 21-years-old. So they’re a little bit older and I feel that from them, that they have a maturity about them that we trust.
“It was really a great, to see these young men and how they performed on the grandest stage ever last year in the final four,” Beilein added. “I loved how we performed and all the way down the line so now being in this situation, I think it takes a minute to get used to after you haven’t done it for eight months. At the same time, they’ve been there and I know some of the reasons Mark, Zak and Derrick came here is they wanted to play in those environments.”
From now until Sept. 15, Michigan is only allowed to work with four players at a time for two hours a week. Between Sept. 15 and Sept. 27, the entire team will be able to get together but only for two hours a week, and once Sept. 27 passes, the Wolverines will have 20 hours per week as a team.
LeVert remains an intriguing returner with his length and skill set with the ball in his hands. Despite a slight setback due to a minor injury this summer, Beilein believes “development is happening.”
After assistant coach LaVall jordan was briefly considered for the open Butler job after Brad Stevens’ departure for the Boston Celtics, Beilein, who was in Russia at the time, remains excited and happy with the collection of staffers on his bench including Bacari Alexander and Jeff Meyer.
“I think that’s always been an important, significant factor in sustaining success,” Beilein said. “Is, keeping the staff together. It’s not always going to stay together, we all know they change here and there, but that was really, I know our guys love coaching here, we love coaching together, we have great meetings and we’re all on board together. As united as any staff I’ve been around.”
Though Beilein wouldn’t commit to the amount of freshmen that will see the floor this winter for the Wolverines, one freshman that stands out in his eyes is Ohio big man Mark Donnal, bringing a unique skill set to the table.
“I had the six hours with him when I came back and he’s played with his back to the basket and on the perimeter,” Beilein said. “He’s the youngest out of all the freshmen with a May birthday, a spring birthday, not sure of the month. So he was 17 his whole senior year. Looking at that, I think he’s got great promise based on his age.
“I think coming in he probably has as high a skill level as we’ve had a big man come in here. He’ still got to put it together and understanding it all and playing on the perimeter defensively or offensively is always a challenge for big guys.”
Discussing the overall look and feel of his group to this point, Beilein is optimistic about the plethora of options he'll have at his disposal.
“I think in time we’ll tell but having those young men out there it does give us, I think we have some real versatility again. I don’t know if we’ve used as much as we’d like to in the past but I think there’s some great possibilities out there given the make-up of this team in regards to how we play and who plays.”